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Todd Ziebarth

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Seven Big Questions for Public Charter Schools for 2014

As we start 2014, the public charter school movement faces several big questions. Here are seven of them that we’ll be paying particularly close attention to this year:

1. Will New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina keep the schoolhouse doors open for the mostly poor and minority students being served so well by public charter schools in the city?

2. Will Kentucky become the 43rd state to enact a law allowing public charter schools?

3. Now that the majority of Detroit’s students attend charter schools, how will the charter community improve quality and more strategically engage with the larger public school system to ensure more students succeed (similar to what’s happening in New Orleans and Washington, D.C.)?

4. Will political leaders in states with the weakest charter school laws in the country, like Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, finally rally behind the bold legislative changes needed to provide more high-quality charter options to their state’s students?

5. Will more school districts follow the lead of the Houston and Aldine Independent School Districts in Texas and stop looking at charters as competitors and start looking at them as incubators for innovative, successful classroom practices that can be adopted within traditional public schools?

6. As state budgets start to modestly improve, will states finally tackle the fiscal inequities that exist between public charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools?

7. Will the charter school law in Washington State be upheld by the Washington Supreme Court?

Keep your eye on the Charter Blog in 2014 as we keep you updated on these and other big questions facing public charters.

Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Renita Thukral

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Washington State Charter School Law Upheld in Court

On December 12, the King County Superior Court in Seattle ruled in League of Women Voters of Washington v. State of Washington, finding that public charter schools are legally permissible in Washington State. As detailed in this blog previously, the case challenged the state constitutionality of Washington’s recently-enacted Charter School Act with seven different claims. Many of the arguments echoed those raised in constitutional challenges filed against charter school laws in other states; other claims relied on unique provisions of Washington’s constitution.

The trial court upheld the act, with two exceptions. Judge Jean Rietschel held that the court was bound by a 1909 state supreme court decision (School District No. 20 v. Bryan) to find that charter schools are not “common schools” because they lack local school district-based voter control (a unique provision of the WA constitution). As a result, the court concluded charter schools are not eligible to receive construction funds reserved by the state for its “common schools.”  However, these two aspects of Washington’s Charter School Act are severable, meaning they can be struck down while the rest of the law remains intact.

We expect plaintiffs to file an appeal, and we anticipate the case will proceed to Washington State Supreme Court by next summer. However, even if the state supreme court agrees with Judge Reitschel and affirms the trial court’s decision, the immediate impact will be minimal. Most charter applicants seeking to open schools in 2014 have proposed leasing space in existing schools or community facilities; they are not intending to construct or remodel facilities before opening their doors and therefore do not qualify for the common school construction funds.

As this case winds its way through the legal process, charter school applicants are charging ahead. The Washington State Charter School Commission and Spokane Public Schools are continuing their consideration of 21 applications for eight spots. For the students and families looking to attend charter schools next year and the teachers, parents, and community leaders working to open them, last week’s ruling was a green light to proceed.

Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Pamela Davidson

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Federal Budget Agreement: One Step Closer to More Funding for Charter Schools?

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Fiscal Year 2014 budget deal by a vote of 332 to 94; the Senate is expected to pass the budget later this week. The budget vote sets the framework for federal spending over the next two years and is the first step in moving the appropriations process forward.

Specifically, the budget deal provides $63.4 billion in additional spending above sequestration levels for FY2014 and FY2015. But for the rest of this fiscal year (FY 2014), $22.36 billion will be provided for non-defense discretionary programs, such as education and health care programs, and every government agency and program outside the U.S. Department of Defense. Therefore, new funding will be spread thin.

The next step is for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to work out how much federal funding will actually be spent on these various programs. In the wake of the House vote, House and Senate appropriators signaled that they will begin to work to bring the 12 separate spending bills that cover the different U.S. agencies and the programs they administer into a single omnibus appropriations package for FY2014. Congress must act before January 14, 2014 in order to prevent another government shutdown.

What remains unclear is how much the appropriators will have to spend on individual education programs, including the Charter Schools Program (CSP). Federal funding for the CSP is essential in order to ensure new charter schools can open and meet parental demand. Nevertheless, an increase–even a slight increase to pre-sequestration funding levels–would be a win for public charter schools. Any new funding will help states grow the number of public charter schools and alleviate the estimated one million student names on public charter schools waiting lists.

It has taken some time for Congress to reach a budget agreement. Now it’s time for Congress to put forward an appropriations bill that ensures federal resources are available to support the growing public charter school community. Over the week, the National Alliance will continue to work with members of Congress to educate them on the importance of CSP and the need for increased funding.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Lisa Grover

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Bringing Charter Schools to Kentucky: New Poll Shows Strong Voter Support

This month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released results from a poll that surveyed 501 registered voters in the state of Kentucky. The results show that 71 percent of Kentucky voters—–nearly three-quarters—support creating public charter schools, with support crossing party lines and regions of the state. These findings are similar to the results of a June 2013 poll by the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which found that 82% of African American families support public charter schools as reform vehicles.

The National Alliance poll also found that 82 percent of voters support providing Kentucky parents with more public school options when choosing a school for their child. In the Louisville area, support for more choices rises to 89 percent. And, a majority of voters believe that more options will improve the public school system.

Kentucky is one of only eight states in the country without a law allowing public charter schools. A bill to create public charter schools has been considered by the Kentucky Legislature the past four sessions. It passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the House.

The National Alliance is working with a growing coalition of local and national partners such as the Kentucky Charter Schools Association (KCSA), Kentucky Youth Advocates, Teach for America Kentucky, the Youth Justice Center, and legislators, parents, pastors, educators, and community activists to educate policymakers and the public about charter schools.  With our coalition partners, we will be bringing forth a charter school bill in the 2014 legislative session that reflects local community needs and best-in-class charter school policies from around the country.

2014 is the year to finally bring a law allowing public charter schools to Kentucky. As the new poll results make clear, that’s what voters in the state want.

Lisa Grover is senior director for state advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

Renita Thukral

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School Spotlight: Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School Serves ELL Students Well

Earlier this year, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a toolkit to help charter schools better serve English Language Learners, understand federal civil rights laws and regulations, and learn about best practices underway across the country. The Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACTS) is one of the schools profiled in the toolkit.

Located in Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood, FACTS is a K–8 school founded by Asian Americans United and the Philadelphia Folklore Project in 2005 with the goal of serving immigrant and refugee communities.

In the 2012-13 school year, FACTS enrolled 479 students, approximately 68 percent of whom were Asian American, 20 percent were African American, 6 percent were multi- racial, 4 percent were Latino, and 2 percent were white. Sixteen percent of these students were classified as English Language Learners (ELLs), with approximately 70 percent of the student body speaking a language other than English at home. FACTS has seen remarkable success–meeting its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for four consecutive years and Annual Measurable Achievement Objective (AMAO) for ELL students as well.

FACTS attributes their success to several best practices:

  • When FACTS opened, one of its founding organizations, Asian Americans United, already had a reputation among immigrant communities as a trustworthy resource and partner. Recruiting efforts included direct engagement with immigrant families in their resident neighborhoods. Over time, the school proved itself successful and parent demand rose quickly. In 2012-13, the school’s waiting list had over 400 students, including 140 hoping to enroll in kindergarten.
  • To evaluate each ELL student’s academic abilities, the school uses comprehensive assessment tools like:
    • a home language survey that captures nuanced information such as the dominant language for both father and mother;
    • a detailed assessment of state standardized test scores; and,
    • input from teachers, administrators, and parents.
  • ELL students are on a “flexible program model” customized to their individual needs and designed to integrate these students into general education classrooms as much as possible.
  • FACTS’s students are monitored for two years after they exit the ELL program. Additionally, to monitor its program’s overall success, FACTS conducts an annual evaluation based on students’ test scores and feedback from administrators, parents, teachers, and students.
  • FACTS translates the school’s application, flyers for events, and all notices sent to students’ homes. An interpreter language line service is available when parents call the school, and FACTS offers professional interpreters to ensure parents are able to participate fully for report card conferences and at school events.

FACTS is an excellent example of how charter schools have the ability to serve ELL students well. To learn more about the work of FACTS, visit http://www.factschool.org/. 
To learn about other schools and best practices, view the toolkit here.

This blog is excerpted from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ recent publication, Serving English Language Learners:  A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools.

Renita Thukral is vice president for legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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New York City Charter School Center Launches Replication Program

For the past decade New York City has been home to some of the most successful charter schools in the country. This week the New York City Charter School Center unveiled a new program that will work with charter school supporters across the country to help create 25,000 new high-quality public charter school seats by the 2017-18 school year by replicating existing high-quality school models.

The Replicating Quality Schools: Launching the Next Generation of High Quality Schools initiative will provide the skills, information, and resources needed to school leaders and emerging networks hoping to open new high-quality charter schools or expand their operations.

The program is intended to be launched in four cities within the next three years. The first anticipated city is New Orleans, where the eight-week training program will kick off this October.

With almost one million names on charter school waitlists nationwide, this initiative can’t come soon enough.

Learn more at http://www.nyccharterschools.org/content/replicate

Pamela Davidson

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The Federal Budget: What it Means for the Charter Schools Program

Yesterday, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) released their topline budget agreement for Fiscal Year 2014, and the House and Senate are scheduled to vote on it in the coming days. While the specifics for programs funded through the Department of Education are not available yet, here is a short summary of what’s at stake and why we must protect funding for charter schools.

The new FY2014 budget will include overall spending levels for the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). Funding for USDOE is critical, since so many charter schools receive Title I and IDEA funds. And of course, new and expanding charter schools have prospered under the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which provides start-up funds and facilities support for new and existing charter schools.

While we wait for more details about how the funds will be allocated in FY2014, the Obama administration is already at work on its FY2015 budget request, which is due the first Monday in February. In November, the National Alliance joined with a coalition of charter support organizations, charter school operators, and national partners and advocacy groups on letters requesting $330 million for the CSP in the president’s FY 2015 budget.

In the coming months, the charter school community will play a critical role in educating members of Congress about the importance of the CSP.  The CSP, which is currently funded at $241million, serves several functions, including new school start-ups, the replication and expansion of successful charter schools, support for facilities, and dissemination activities.

This chart provides an overview of each of these grants within the CSP, their current funding levels, and their purpose:

Federal Charter Schools Program, FY 2013

csptop2
  • SEA Grants & Non-SEA Grants: Competitive grants are awarded from the U.S. Department of Education to State Education Agencies to make subgrants to charter schools.  When SEAs do not apply or are denied, individual charter schools can apply. Funding is used to help cover charter school start-up costs.
  • Replication & Expansion Grant: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to nonprofit charter management organizations that have demonstrated success, including improved academic achievement.
  • National Leadership Activities Grant: Competitive grants provide funding for projects of national significance to improve charter school quality, as well as money to disseminate information about the projects.
  • State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grant: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to states to help cover charter school facilities costs.
  • Credit Enhancement for Charter Schools Facilities Program: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to public and nonprofit entities that enhance the ability of public charter schools to raise private capital to acquire, construct, renovate, or lease academic facilities.

Federal funding for the CSP is essential in order to ensure new charter schools can open and meet current demand. With nearly one million student names on waiting lists for charter schools, a strong federal investment is critical for the movement. As we continue our work advocating for charter school funding, we urge the charter school community to join our efforts to educate their members of Congress about the importance of the CSP.

Pam Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Kim Kober is the federal policy coordinator.

Gina Mahony

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The Latest Charter School News from Washington, D.C.

Congress is in the home stretch for 2013, with the House and Senate scheduled to wrap up business by December 13. We are closely monitoring two actions in Congress that may impact charter schools: negotiations on the FY2014 budget and Senate consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Budget Update 

The House and Senate budget conference committee charged with reaching an agreement on the FY2014 budget framework, including an alternative to the sequester, continues to negotiate. Regardless of whether the budget conference committee is able to reach a deal, Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution (CR) by January 15, 2014 to keep the government open through the remainder of the fiscal year. We expect more activity and press coverage of the budget conference committee early this month.

Continuing the Push in the U.S. Senate on Department of Defense Recruitment of Students Attending Online Charter Schools

In June, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prohibit the Department of Defense from requiring students who attend online charter schools and homeschools to score higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test than students at traditional public schools. Last week, Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) were successful in their efforts to include a similar amendment to the Senate NDAA. We expect further activity on this legislation this month, when the Senate returns to complete its consideration of the bill.

National Alliance Leads Coalition of Charter School Leaders, Urges Obama Administration to Increase Charter Schools Program Funding 

We are planning ahead for FY2015! Earlier this month, a coalition of leaders in the charter school and education reform community sent letters to the administration requesting $330 million for the federal Charter Schools Program, which is currently funded at $241 million. Sixty state charter support organizations and charter management organizations signed the letter. In addition, nine national education reform advocacy groups, including the National Alliance, sent a separate letter asking for $330 million.

Gina Mahony is the senior vice president for government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

Renita Thukral

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Washington State Should Reject Charter School Opponents’ Failed Tactics

In November 2012, Washington state voters became the first in the country to approve a public charter school law by a ballot initiative. Initiative 1240 authorized the creation of 40 charter schools over five years beginning with the 2014 school year.  Just months after I-1240 passed, however, charter school opponents filed a lawsuit in state court to block the law from being implemented, arguing it violated the state constitution in several ways.

This is not the first time charter school opponents have taken their policy disputes to court when they haven’t been successful convincing legislators or voters to block charter schools. In fact, over the past 15 years, arguments similar to those made by Washington charter school opponents have been tried in other states, and they have failed every time. From California to Ohio to New Jersey, the same constitutional claims raised in the Washington case have been raised and rejected by state courts of appeal and state supreme courts.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently released a paper explaining when and where these constitutional claims have been made, what the respective outcomes were, and how the lessons learned from these cases can–and should–be applied to the Washington constitutional challenge.

Washington courts should follow the sound reasoning applied by other state courts that have considered and denied similar constitutional arguments.  Each of the arguments raised in the Washington suit have been presented, in one form or another, to other state courts with comparable constitutional provisions, and they have been uniformly rejected. The Washington courts should do the same.

This blog is excerpted from the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s publication,  We’ve Been Here Before:  Charter School Opponents Use Same Legal Arguments and Lose Every Time, by Chad A. Readler and Kenneth M. Grose.

Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Kim Kober

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Two Charter Management Organizations Named Race to the Top-District Finalists

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced the 31 Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition finalists, including two charter management organizations (CMOs). The 2013 competition will provide nearly $120 million to support strategies developed by school districts (including charter schools that are their own district) that have a direct impact on improving student learning and closing achievement gaps in schools serving high populations of low-income families. The RTT-D’s focus on classroom activities, personalized learning, and the relationships between educators and students is similar to the priorities of many public charter schools—to improve student achievement through innovative learning strategies and engagement between teachers, parents, and students.

Two CMO’s, Rocketship Education and the KIPP Foundation, are listed as finalists in the competition. It’s no surprise given that these organizations easily meet RTT-D’s top criteria for strong vision, proven track records, and successful college preparation for students.

Rocketship’s elementary schools in the Bay Area, Milwaukee, and Nashville are already making progress closing the achievement gap. The Rocketship model promotes individualized student learning and their efforts are paying off. In California, Rocketship continues to be in the top five percent of school districts serving low-income children. The model rotates students through a learning lab each day where students use online adaptive software to tailor their lessons. The Rocketship proposal includes a plan to provide students with computers so that they can work at home and over the summer to prevent learning loss.

KIPP’s TEAM Academy, with schools in Newark and Camden, was also selected as a finalist. At TEAM Academy, everything is earned. Students start each year earning their chair and uniform for doing the right thing, and they soon move on to earning trips and activities. The Academy’s founding principle—that together, everyone achieves more—has become a reality in student achievement. If selected to receive the grant, their plan will allow the charter to develop a personalized college readiness plan for each student to help families manage the path to and through college.
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While the final list of this year’s RTT-D awardees has not yet been announced, last year three CMOs–Harmony Public Schools,IDEA Public Schools, and KIPP DC–were awarded funds and set a strong precedent for the inclusion of public charter schools in the grant competition.

By the end of the year, the list of 31 finalists will be narrowed down to five to ten winning applicants for the four-year awards. Funding will range from $4 million to $30 million per awardee, with the amount determined by the population of students served.

View the full list of finalists for the 2013 Race to the Top-District competition.

Kim Kober is the federal policy and government relations coordinator.